Colorado in the thick of competition for spaceport business

By: Steve Friday November 30, 2012 Tags: Colorado Spaceport, Editorially Speaking, Front Range Airport, Steve Porter

Colorado is moving forward with a plan to join a growing movement of states seeking their own "spaceport" for commercial cargo shipments and passenger flights into space.

In late November, Front Range Airport in Adams County received a $275,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics to help fund FAA processing of a spaceport license.

Additional support from Adams County, Denver International Airport, the City of Aurora, Town of Bennett and the I-70 Regional Economic Advancement Partnership helped Front Range reach the commitments needed to match an FAA grant in September.

Front Range Airport is considered an ideal location for a spaceport due to its rural location but nearby proximity to Denver and DIA, where cargo and passengers would be channeled from.

The funding milestone news comes almost one year after Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that the state had applied for a spaceport designation from the FAA.

The designation would allow the creation of a spaceport where space-bound payloads could be launched and eventually include space tourists seeking a thrilling ride and spectacular view of the Earth.

Hickenlooper noted in his letter that Colorado is home to more than 140 aerospace companies and is ranked among the nation's top three states in revenue generated from the aerospace industry.

Total cost of a Colorado spaceport or how it will ultimately be funded is not yet known, but New Mexico - which is farthest along in pursuing its spaceport dream - is spending almost $150 million to build its spaceport set to open in December 2013.

The remaining $60-plus million is being borne by locally-issued bonds and some private investment.

One big investor is British billionaire Richard Branson, whose company, Virgin Galactic, will be the spaceport's anchor tenant. Branson plans to sell spaceflight tickets at $200,000 a pop to rich thrillseekers.

It will be interesting to watch how Colorado's pursuit of a spaceport unfolds in an era of improving but still weak state revenues. Undoubtedly, those 140-plus Colorado aerospace companies will be asked to step up to the plate and pitch in to help finance the facility's development.

With a spaceport - which could become functional in just a few years if funding materializes -- even more aerospace industry players could be attracted to Colorado, bringing high-paying jobs and welcomed economic activity to the state.

But with several other states also seeking spaceports -- including California, Florida and even Oklahoma, Alaska and Indiana -- the competition promises to be fierce.



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